Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi, who fled the country with their children on 14 January 2011 amid a popular uprising, were charged after the discovery of money and jewellery in their palace on the outskirts of the capital, Tunis.
The judge, Touhami Hafi also fined Ben Ali, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia, 25 million euros and Trabelsi 20.4 million euros on the first day of the trial.
Ben Ali alone faces a second trial which has been postponed until 30 June to allow his lawyers more time to prepare their defence. This case involves weapons and drugs allegedly found in a presidential palace in Carthage.
Ben Ali’s lawyer in Beirut described the court’s verdict as farcical.
“This is a joke,” said Akram Azoury. “You don’t retaliate to a joke, you just laugh.”
Monday’s trial was the start of a long process that may see top members of Ben Ali’s regime in the dock over allegations including murder, torture, money laundering and trafficking of archaeological artefacts.
The military justice system chief, Colonel Major Marwane Bouguerra, said former interior minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem may find himself named in cases linked to the 300 civilian deaths in protests between 17 December – 14 January.